Spy 100, #30: The Company

Although it scores points for ambition and scope, The Company (2007) didn’t really connect with me, a three-part miniseries based on a novel by Robert Littell. This one layers a secret history behind several decades of the Cold War, and while it succeeds in pieces, on the whole it struck me as a clumsy sprawl,  trying too hard to do too much and not quite succeeding.

In the aftermath of World War II, a trio of Yale college friends are recruited to opposite sides of the espionage world. Jack McAuliffe (Chris O’Donnell) and Leo Kritzky (Alessandro Nivola) are recruited into the CIA, while their pal Yevgeny “Eugene” Tsipin (Rory Cochrane) becomes a KGB agent. McAuliffe, the series’ essential protagonist, begins his career working in Berlin with hard-drinking old hand Harvey Torriti (Alfred Molina), who breaks him in for what turns out to be an eye-openingly disappointing career. From his early missions in Berlin, to the quashed anti-communist revolution in Budapest, to the disastrous Bay of Pigs, McAuliffe is the loyal Company man, traveling the world to “man the barricades” against communist expansion, only to see his country let down the brave allies it covertly encourages and supports. Along the way, CIA mastermind James “Mother” Angleton (Michael Keaton) searches hopelessly for a Russian mole inside the CIA suspected of betraying their every move to the enemy.

Again, points for scope and ambition: the story covers the early stages of postwar reconstruction all the way to Glasnost, and attempts to integrate its fictional characters into the world of historical figures like Angleton and notorious British traitor Adrian “Kim” Philby (Tom Hollander). But I didn’t find the execution particularly artful; somehow the boundary between the real and fictional worlds felt jagged, jarring. Part of the problem is the script: it’s loaded with cliches and exposition. But more problematic are the characters, most of which feel generic and predictable. The acting, meanwhile, is adequate, with the smaller characters coming off better than the more important, central ones. (I found O’Donnell flat and Molina uncharacteristically dull, while Keaton’s pose as the notoriously paranoid Angleton is overly affected.) This damages the human story, which dominates the first and third episodes. The more intensive historical reenactments in the middle section are definitely more interesting, and the series comes alive then, especially during the action scenes in Hungary and Cuba. But it wasn’t enough to rescue the series for me. It’s nicely produced, but by and large The Company didn’t impress me.

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